Monday, May 26, 2014

Sparks (and Electric Prunes) Project: James Lowe!

It's fun being able to do this stuff. That's the message.

James Lowe is the founder – and one of the key driving creative forces behind – the Electric Prunes. The Electric Prunes’ unique and immediately identifiable style of music – heavy emphasis on production values, grounded in but not beholden only to psychedelic-rock, and fastidious musical craftsmanship – reflect Lowe’s vision. The Prunes have been around in various incarnations since 1967; the critical constant throughout this history is James Lowe.

The Prunes have just released a fantastic new record entitled Was.  The CD, which can be purchased here, has no less than 15 songs, with no loss of vision, power, energy, or musical direction.

James Lowe is an affable man, appreciative of life's opportunities (he lives half a year in the Dominican Republic), and proud of his work with both the Electric Prunes and Sparks.  We talked about the new Electric Prunes’ CD, as well as Lowe’s experience as the engineer on the 1971 eponymous debut album by Sparks, and as the producer of that album's follow up, 1972's A Woofer In Tweeter’s Clothing.

I hope you enjoy reading this interview with James, who was so generous with his time – for which I am greatly appreciative.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sparks Drummer Project (6): Steve Nistor

It was easily the most challenging thing I've ever done musically - Steve Nistor.

This is the sixth in a series of articles about the individuals that have drummed for Sparks. The focus of this piece is the acclaimed Steve Nistor, who drummed with Sparks during their historic "21X21" undertaking in 2008, where they played all of their albums in succession over a period of 21 (not quite consecutive) nights. I was fortunate enough to have attended the first five of the shows; it was an unforgettable experience. Steve Nistor drummed for each of the shows that I saw, as well as almost every one of the others. Also accompanying Sparks leaders Ron and Russell Mael were guitarist Jim Wilson, Steve McDonald, and Marcus Blake on Bass. Steve's on-line rundown of each show can be found here, and is well worth the read.

Given the diversity of styles that Sparks explores in their music, the complex arrangements of the songs, and the breadth of material, such an undertaking requires versatility and serious musical chops. That's Steve Nistor. He has played with any number of bands, and along with Jim Wilson, is currently on the road supporting Emmylou Harris's Wrecking Ball tour.  

Steve's Facebook page can be found here.  Steve was most gracious with his time, particularly in light of his no doubt frenetic schedule in the midst of a major tour. I am very appreciative that Steve took the time to reflect on the 21x21 experience. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Sparks Drummer Project (5): Dinky Diamond, 1974-1975 - As Remembered By His Peers

Kimono My House at 40: The First in a Series

Dinky Diamond played drums on Sparks albumsThis is the first of a series of planned articles commemorating the May, 1974 release of the seminal Sparks album Kimono My House. Kimono was the first of three Sparks albums to feature the great drummer Norman "Dinky" Diamond, the subject of this article.

Kimono My House put Sparks on the map. The two albums that followed, also considered classics, are Propaganda (1974), and Indiscreet (1975). On these albums, Dinky Diamond made an indelible contribution to Sparks history. He brought originality and an innate sense of how to incorporate the drums into the complex arrangements of Sparks' principal songwriter, Ron Mael - not an easy task. As I discuss below, Dinky Diamond went far to set the template for Sparks drumming.

Diamond, who was voted Drummer of the Year in a 1975 poll conducted by Premier Drums, tragically took his own life on September 10, 2004. He will be forever remembered by fellow Sparks drummers, by those who contributed to those classic Sparks records and other musical colleagues, and by the fans of his music. Here, in their words, are tributes and thoughts about the great Norman "Dinky" Diamond - including a few additional thoughts of my own at the end. 

These individuals took time from their busy schedules to make these contributions. Needless to say, I am truly grateful.